Pudewell Ready For His Chance

BravesCenter's Bill Shanks talks with one of the newest Braves, non-drafted free agent signee Nate Pudewell. This story is for our premium subscribers.

SHANKS: Tell me a little bit about yourself.
PUDEWELL: They had tryouts in mid-April down in Long Beach for the independent league. I heard about the tryout like two days before I went down there. I heard about the league a couple of days before. So I looked it up on the Internet and decided to drive down there. It was in Long Beach and I'm from Sacramento. It was a spur of a moment thing. The coaches there were pretty impressed with me, Darrell Evans and Jon Warden. They called me that next Tuesday to see if I would sign with them. Their spring training was on May 17th or something like that. In between that time I was getting ready by throwing a lot and lifting to try to get ready for their spring training.

SHANKS: So what had you been doing before that?
PUDEWELL: I didn't play spring ball. I had tried out at UNR (University of Nevada – Reno) in the fall. I actually probably played the worst baseball I'd ever played in my life for the tryout. It was kind of depressing for me. The coaches didn't like it, and I don't know what was wrong with me then so they just cut me. Then there was really no point in going to this school anymore. I rather just work. So I just went for the fall at UNR.

SHANKS: Ok, let's back up a minute. Where did you go to high school?
PUDEWELL: Oakridge High School in El Dorado Hills, California.

SHANKS: Were you a pitcher there?
PUDEWELL: My freshman year there I was on the ski team. I had started out on the ski team in the winter, and that overlapped with the baseball tryouts. So my freshman year I went one day for the baseball tryouts, and the coach was like, ‘that's not enough. We can't have you on our team.' So I didn't play my freshman year of high school. My sophomore year I did get on the team and I was pulled to the varsity for their playoffs. I pitched an inning and gave up a home run and a double off the wall. I was pretty bad. Then my junior year I was ineligible to play because of grades. Then I had a couple of problems in school, so my parents sent me down to Southern California for my senior year at Loma Linda Academy in Loma Linda, California. It was a private school and I lived with my grandmother down there. I just finished up school there. I actually did pretty well there and did pretty well there. I was a pitcher there. I pitched my senior year. I was the MVP of the year.

SHANKS: Did anyone look at you out of high school?
PUDEWELL: I don't remember any pro scouts there, but after the season I got a call from Southwestern Adventist University in Texas in Keen, Texas. My high school was small; it was an academy. There wasn't much exposure. This private Christian school from Texas called me and they said they'd give me a scholarship if I'd go play baseball for them.

SHANKS: How did they hear about you?
PUDEWELL: Honestly, I have no idea. I'm guessing one of my baseball coaches did it for me.

SHANKS: So what did you do after you graduated from high school?
PUDEWELL: I went to Europe for one year. My dad had done it when he was younger, back when he got out of high school. It was a good experience for him. So he sent me on a trip to Europe too. I went to Austria. It was a small town in Austria. I went to school for the whole year to learn German. That was pretty much the mission of the year for me – to learn German. My dad was like, ‘Well if you learn German then it's a success and you can do whatever you want.' So I traveled around Germany a lot too.

SHANKS: So when you graduated from high school, did you think about playing baseball?
PUDEWELL: I think so, but it wasn't really that exciting to play because I was at a small school and I didn't get that much exposure. I was kind of like, ‘Well nobody really picked me up, so I don't know if I want to do it.' I still loved to play, but it wasn't a top priority then.

SHANKS: So then after the year in Europe what did you do?
PUDEWELL: Then I went to that college of Southwestern Adventist in Keen. It's a little bit south of Dallas, about a half hour or so. I went there and for the fall my arm was feeling really good and then all of a sudden just before the end of fall something was wrong with my shoulder. It hurt over Christmas break. I pitched with the injury in the spring for Southwestern Adventist, but I was throwing short arm with just my elbow. I pitched the whole year like that. My velocity was way down. So after that year I was hurting, and I could hardly throw a baseball. So I just decided to forget about baseball. I got my A-plus certification, which is like a computer tech repair certification. I got that over the summer, and then I started working for Fry's Electronics in Sacramento and I worked there for about a year. It's a big electronics store. I got my own place. I had a house in West Sacramento.

SHANKS: Did you get your shoulder checked out?
PUDEWELL: I was throwing with my elbow, but it was my shoulder that was hurting. My dad took me to a couple of people. My uncle had an X-ray machine and he X-rayed it and he didn't find anything. My dad took me to a couple of people and they just suggested rehab workouts, like rotator cuff stuff. But I kind of knew it wasn't my rotator cuff, because you're pretty much done. I don't know if I knew but I was hoping it wasn't my rotator. So I was working at Fry's Electronics and one of the teams I had played against at Southwestern Adventist was called College of the Southwest. It was another NAIA school; both were NAIA schools. When I played against them the coach was impressed, and also a bunch of the guys from Southwestern Adventist went over there to play baseball also. Southwestern Adventist baseball program closed down. The coach was embezzling money or something, so they just closed down the program completely. That was another reason why I just went back to work. Then maybe January and February and in the summer this coach, Jim Marshall, just started calling me. Most of his coaching career was at New Mexico – Highlands, like 27 years. He kept calling and said, ‘Hey come down here and play baseball for us.' I was like, ‘My shoulder's hurting.' It was hurting so much I couldn't even throw a ball. I tried to throw with my buddy out in my yard. I had no idea where the ball was going. He kept calling though wanting me out there. ‘Come down here. We'll fix you. Come on. I'll send you information.' He sent it, but I didn't fill it out. He called me several months later. He was like, ‘Did you fill out the information?' I was like, ‘No.' So he sent more information. He was offering me a scholarship. Finally I just said I'd go. This school is in Hobbs, New Mexico. It's like southeast corner of New Mexico. I knew a bunch of people over there, but it was a horrible town, nothing to do there at all – just the desert. So my whole team knew about me and thought since I was 6'7" I should be throwing gas. I come out and my shoulder's killing me and I'm throwing like mid-high 70s with my fastball. It was horrible and it hurt so bad to throw. I think I got it up to low 80s by the time the summer was over, but I knew I had to do something. These guys were expecting me to throw and I couldn't do it. My brother was actually on the University of Nevada – Reno football team. He all of a sudden blew up since he was working out; he put on forty pounds or something. So I went to him and asked him to help me work out with weights. Before then, I had never worked out with weights in my life. I was 6'7", 190 or 185. I had nothing. He was like, ‘yea, sure.' So over the Christmas break for like two or three weeks he helped me lift. I was lifting a lot of shoulders cause that was what was hurting and I was hoping it would help. So after that I went back to the second semester at the College of the Southwest and I come back throwing harder than I've ever thrown since high school – like mid-high 80s. Everybody was like, ‘Whoa, where did this guy come from?'

SHANKS: So how did the shoulder feel by now?
PUDEWELL: The shoulder was fine. Apparently it was a strained labrum.

SHANKS: So did the rest heal it?
PUDEWELL: I think it was the lifting. It was hurting because there was no muscle there to keep it together. It was stretching itself or something. But I got some muscle in there and everything was fine. I still had the retarded short arm motion. I had to get rid of that.

SHANKS: Did they clean you up mechanically there?
PUDEWELL: They tried, but even now I don't think I'm even back to where I was in high school. I'm a lot better, but I still threw short arm. Everybody would ask why I wouldn't get my arm up. So I ended up throwing that spring (2003) for them.

SHANKS: How did you do there?
PUDEWELL: Usually what happens to me is at the beginning of the year I have to get my feel for stuff. I had a few rough outings in the beginning and then towards the end of the year I still getting a lot of confidence and I start feeling that I'm invincible. I think I had a 4.00 ERA and was 3-2. I would throw some great games that I don't even remember. People tell me I threw a one-hitter against a powerhouse in my conference.

SHANKS: So you were starting there?

SHANKS: So what were you throwing there?
PUDEWELL: I don't think I ever touched 90 there. I was probably 85-88 with the fastball. I had given up my curve ball since it hurt my elbow and my shoulder because of the way I threw. I had a slider and kind of had a change up that acted as a screwball. I kind of twisted my wrist and it would go slower and dive down away.

SHANKS: So after that season what happened?
PUDEWELL: I went back home and worked for the summer. Then I came back to CSW and did the same thing. The first year I was at CSW we had a really good year that year. We all knew each other coming from the other school. My junior year we didn't win much. In the playoffs I pitched one game, seven innings, where we won 25-0. I gave up like one run. We ended up destroying them. Then the next day I came back and had to pitch against that team and I ended up closing out that game after I had just pitched seven innings. So I ended up closing that game, and then I was done for a few days after that. That was the 03-04 season and my junior year.

SHANKS: Were you draft eligible that year?
PUDEWELL: I believe I was. I had contact from the Cubs and some others. I don't know if my coach got any calls or not.

SHANKS: Then after the junior year what happened?
PUDEWELL: I stayed there in Hobbs to work since I had a place to live there. Then I heard about the Major League Scouting Bureau tryout in Duncanville, Texas. It's west of Dallas. I went over there and threw for the scouting bureau. A couple of them were pretty impressed. I filled out a few info cards. They suggested I try to go to a larger school to get more exposure. I figured I'd go to where my brother went, since he has a house. I went over there after the summer and started trying out for them at UNR. It's got a huge elevation difference; it was tough to condition there. I played like the worst baseball I had ever played when I worked out for them. I was pretty frustrated because I was the oldest guy on the team. Most of them were 18 and 19 years old. There were some problems with my transcript also. It wasn't working out for me. They needed some summer school transcript and something. So I ended up getting cut from the tryout, so I just was going to school there.

SHANKS: So you left UNR and then what?
PUDEWELL: Then this spring I went to work at the local Pac-Mail in El Dorado Hills. Over there my boss knew about my story and he knew a scout named Brandon Mozley, who actually lived in the area. He introduced me to Brandon Mozley. As soon as I got introduced to Brandon Mozley, I thought, ‘man this guy is a scout – maybe I should start working out.' So I got a catcher from Oakridge to help me out, Dan Soze. He was a junior on the varsity team over there. He was my catcher. I'd throw to him three or four times a week, and I'd throw long toss. I'd lift four days a week. So I worked out with him for a while, and I was getting a lot stronger. I'd throw 40-60 pitch bullpens with him every time, just working on everything's I've got. Then after throwing pretty hard, Dan was like, ‘You're throwing pretty hard with a lot of movement.' So we thought Brandon could come out and look at me. And Dan's father, also named Dan Soze, knew a scout from Arizona and Seattle. He was pulling for me too. So my catcher's dad told me he had a Seattle scout coming out. So I told Brandon that if he wanted to come see me the Seattle scout was going to be there and it would be a perfect time. So I go out there and the Seattle guy was out there and then Brandon showed up. Brandon brought a gun and the Seattle guy didn't for some reason. So I'm sitting there warming up and Brandon's back there behind the fence. He had the gun on me the whole time. After about 30 pitches, he said, ‘well let's just do this one more time. Throw it as hard as you can.' So I did and on that pitch I hit 95. He told me that I hit 95 on that last pitch and I hit 94 three other times in the bullpen. I was usually around 92-93. So I was excited and he was excited. The Seattle guy, after I threw for him, he started giving me this spill about how old I was and how tough it was going to be in the minors. It was kind of depressing, really.

SHANKS: So when did Nick Hostetler of the Braves get involved?
PUDEWELL: Well Brandon hooked me up with Nick. I asked Brandon, ‘Can you guys do anything? Can you pick me up?' First he was trying to figure out my eligibility. That was the first thing we had to wonder about. So we finally figured out I was draft-eligible and he couldn't sign me as a free agent. But he said he was hoping I would be a draft skip-over so he could sign me as a free agent. The day after I threw the 95 for Brandon, the Arizona guy came out and wanted to see me the next day. I threw for Brandon on a Monday and this guy wanted to see me Tuesday because he had heard I threw 95. I said, ‘Well I just threw 35, 40 pitches and you expect me to come out and do the same thing?' I came out and did it anyway and I think I was at 89-91 for him. So he had me fill out a card for him. I never heard anything from him after that, or the Seattle guy. So I saw Brandon a lot. He'd have to come into Pac-Mail a lot to make copies. We got to know each other pretty well. I guess he thought I was worth it, so he talked to Nick (Hostetler).

SHANKS: So did Brandon call his bosses in Toronto about signing you?
PUDEWELL: I think he did. I learned later that Toronto's organization is more of a stat organization, and I hadn't put up any amazing numbers or all that. So they weren't going to do anything.

SHANKS: So Brandon, the area scout, had interest in you, obviously.
PUDEWELL: Yeah and he was mad that Toronto didn't want to pick me up. He was trying to fight them, but he couldn't do anything so that's why he got Nick involved. He said, ‘hey you need to take a look at this guy.'

SHANKS: So Brandon just did you a favor?
PUDEWELL: The first time I saw Nick was two days before I was leaving for the Walton Beach Armada, which was probably mid-May. He called me for a couple of days, like four days before I was leaving and was like, ‘I want to see you.' I told him I was leaving pretty soon. He said, ‘ how about in a couple of days.' It was raining that day, so I ended up throwing indoors on one of those flat mounds with no real rubber. He had his gun out. He got my two-seamer at like 92, 93 and the four-seamer was actually the same speed. So he was pretty impressed and got a lot of information from me, like medical info. So he told me he'd be in touch. I told him I was going to spring training. He told me he'd call me every week or so to make sure I wasn't getting hurt and see how I was throwing.

SHANKS: So by this time Nick was the only one on you?
PUDEWELL: Yeah. There was actually this guy from San Diego, Mal Fichman, who had been in contact with me for a while. He had never seen me throw. I had sent out a bio sheet to every team in the league, saying my speed, my pitches, whether or not I was eligible for the draft, and my entire background – like a resume. So a couple of teams gave me a call; there was really not much interest. But Mal Fichman gave me a call and wanted an update. So I was emailing him. He never saw me throw.

SHANKS: And when Nick saw you throw you were 92-93 – in that area?

SHANKS: Did you start playing with the independent league at that point?
PUDEWELL: Yeah I went to play in the independent league for spring training. We were in Yuma, Arizona. It was the Golden Baseball League. It just started this year. Nick would call me to check on me. I played for them for a couple of weeks and they were pretty impressed. They had me as their fourth starter. Nick said, ‘we're looking to draft you. We'll probably get you the second day most likely since you don't have much exposure.' I was fine with that. I just needed a chance.

SHANKS: So at that point you thought you were going to be drafted?
PUDEWELL: Well it was kind of weird. He was calling me and telling me that, and it's not that I didn't trust him, but it was kind of hard to believe. It was just difficult to believe. So I was just going on playing in the independent league. I didn't expect much from the draft at all. I was scheduled to pitch on the 9th of June. The draft came around and everybody on the team thought I was going to be drafted. I told one guy, and then everyone on the team knew. They kept asking me, ‘are you drafted yet?' So Wednesday came around and by 9 o'clock no one had called. Nick had called (earlier) asking me if I was ready to be drafted and if I would sign. I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.' So I go to dinner and I get a call around 9:30 from Nick. ‘Sorry we couldn't draft you. We had other people to get, but if you're still available we'd like to pick you up right now.' They were willing to offer me a minor league contract and just a standard bonus for non-draftees. So I was like, ‘Yeah man just hook me up.' So they had to find out what they had to do to buy me out from the Golden League. I think it was like $3000 or something like that. Then he told me to get up to Sacramento so I could sign the contract. Mini-camp started Saturday, so I had to get signed.

SHANKS: Did that surprise you that Toronto passed on you because they didn't have any stats on you?
PUDEWELL: I didn't really think about it, but it was kind of surprising. It was surprising that Brandon was so excited about me. He was like, ‘oh man this guy is throwing gas. He's got a great live arm.' Then he couldn't do anything. So I just wondered, ‘why not?'

SHANKS: So you're in Orlando at the mini-camp. What have they told you so far?
PUDEWELL: I'm down here with about 60 people. There are a lot of young guys right out of high school. They just take these high school guys and start them over and basically teach them how to pitch. All you're going to throw is a four-seamer and change up. And basically I don't throw much of a four-seamer anymore. I gave up on that pitch in high school cause it got hit too much. It was just too flat cause my two-seamer, since I'm kind of a slinger, sidearmer, I roll over the top of the ball when I release it. I didn't think I had a change up cause I don't really throw a change up, but apparently I've got one. So they're stressing the four-seamer and the changeup. I'm just started off from step one.

SHANKS: But it sounds like that you haven't had much pitching instruction?
PUDEWELL: Right. I haven't had any. I think I went to a velocity coach when I was like 13 or something. But that's about it.

SHANKS: Well I'm sure it's scary to have all those 18-year-olds around you and there you are 23. But you know you've got to learn just like them.
PUDEWELL: It is really exciting. I've worked with Derek Bothelo and Derrick Lewis (two GCL pitching coaches). Bo had me raise my arm up because I'm more of a slinger. Derrick told me to land on my toe. These are things I haven't heard before really. They've been pretty nice to me. It's already helped me a great deal. It's pretty exciting. I think they're going to give me some things to do, and I'll feel that I'm not performing well, but I think once I do it for a month or two it will pay off hugely. They told me today in a meeting, ‘we don't care about stats. The main thing for the Gulf Coast League is to throw the ball down the middle.'

SHANKS: You may go out there and get lit up, but if they see progress, that's all that matters.

SHANKS: Where are they going to send you?
PUDEWELL: Nick was telling me they were going to have me go to Danville, unless they found something that I really needed to work on here. They haven't told me anything huge (to work on), so maybe I'll go to Danville.

SHANKS: I know Nick told me he thought your velocity can increase even more?
PUDEWELL: That's certainly my goal. When I lift weights and I'm strong, like when I threw 95 I was at 220 and had been lifting for a month and a half. I felt really strong. My legs were really strong. I think that I can get a lot stronger. I've got a big frame to work with, and being 220 is nothing for 6'7". I figure I can put on 20 pounds or so of muscle. I don't have any fat on me. I have a high metabolism. I figure if I can work out and put on another 20 pounds of muscle, I definitely can get it into the high-90s. My goal I set for myself is to throw 100 mph. It's a high goal.

SHANKS: But you've really thrown 93-95 by throwing, not by pitching – and there is a difference.
PUDEWELL: That's true.

Bill Shanks has a new book out on baseball scouting and player development philosophies. Scout's Honor: The Braves Way To Build A Winning Team is in your local bookstores now. Bill can be reached at thebravesshow@email.com

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